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Telly babysits for modern mammas

Mumbai, Jan. 24: Television viewers are getting younger by the day: the official age to start is two.

The television set is no longer dismissed as an idiot box, either. Many mothers feel it is an “ally”, helping them bring up their children.

According to a recent study, a large number of Indian mothers use the telly as a bribe with their children, even toddlers, while they finish their household chores unhindered.

The qualitative study, conducted in August last year and commissioned by Cartoon Network, focused on the mother-child relationship in Indian households. The focus groups of the study, carried out in Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai, consisted of pre-school going children and their mothers.

The women said they used television, like toys, to keep children busy as they went about with their work. They also claimed that the small screen worked as a “babysitter”.

Indian mothers feel the television is a good teacher of English, a necessary survival skill in today’s world. Cartoons are safe, clean fun, as opposed to “adult” programming such as serials, the complexities of which children are likely to misinterpret.

The study found out that cartoons were popular with viewers in the 4-14 age group, the network’s target audience.

Encouraged by these findings, Cartoon Network, which boasts of a cult following among young Indians, has introduced new programming aimed at pre-schoolers. The channel will now focus on kids between two and six with a special package called Tiny TV, announced at a news conference here this week.

The network says nobody is too young to watch television. “There is no lower age for television watching,” said Ian Diamond, senior vice-president and general manager, Turner Entertainment Network Asia, of which Cartoon Network is a subsidiary.

Tiny TV is being launched in India first. Later, it may be beamed in Philippines and Taiwan.

The programming has been planned keeping mothers in mind. The network hopes it will become just as popular with mothers, who may watch the programmes while chopping vegetables or doing other household work.

Tiny TV will be telecast between 11 am and 2 pm on weekdays and 10.30 am and 12 noon on Saturday and Sunday. The package will consist of cartoon series popular with children abroad such as Bob the Builder, Kipper, Make Way for Noddy, Oswald and Pingu.

The new programming comes packed with encoded messages. Bob the Builder is designed to help pre-schoolers develop social skills. Kipper, the child with an overactive imagination, is meant to encourage creative thinking and help children inculcate values such as cooperation, courtesy, kindness and learning through adventure.

Cartoon Network claims the channel is viewed by 157 million Indian children — nearly 15 per cent of the population.

Turner Entertainment Networks Asia vice-president, research, Duncan Morris said India would be the launching pad for Tiny TV because of the size of the market. No other children’s channel came close to Cartoon Network in popularity, he added.

The network dismissed fears that the cartoons would result in a cultural dislocation in young minds. “The stories are universal,” the network said.

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